Saturday 25th April
Miles: 24 (terrible!)
Today we hit the foothills (manic laugh) of the Pyrenees. After a slow morning of getting our maps to load on the free public wifi, we cycled out of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and almost immediately hit a 3KM hill. We managed to cycle about 1.5KM of this before getting off for the inevitable push, being overtaken by many lycra-clad French cyclists along the way. This was not a bad effort, but it pretty much destroyed our legs!
Then, on the way down the back wheel punctured. Eric had another travel diva moment and then sorted it (well done Eric).
We noticed that the back tyre was frequently puncturing on downhills. We suspected that the break pads were too high, perhaps squeezing the tyre, causing too much pressure on the inner tube. Eric adjusted the break pads and we set off again with our fingers crossed.
However, only a couple of hills later the back tyre punctured again, once more on a steep downhill. We had the tools to fix it, but why was it happening? How could we stop it happening again? We were in the middle of nowhere, and even if we did walk most of the way to the next town with a bike shop – which would be horrendous in this hilly terrain and take hours and hours – tomorrow was Sunday: everything would be closed.
Instead of getting angry, Eric was now looking all empty-eyed and saying frightening things like: “I just don’t know what to do.” (I’m setting the scene here because I’m about to come off rather well.)
I had a suspicion that it was to do with the wheel ribbon (the bit which lies between the wheel itself and the inner tube). We removed the tyre and had a look, and indeed, the ribbon had been misplaced in a couple of areas, leaving vaguely edgy bits of metal exposed to the inner tubes.
Then a friendly French Lycra-wearing cyclist came along and offered his help. He located the puncture and then put the inner tube back on the wheel. Further evidence: the puncture lined up with where the wheel ribbon had become misplaced.
We used electrical tape as a make-shift wheel ribbon, and then with many platitudes to the cycling gods we replaced the inner tube and very gingerly set off.
If you’re feeling on edge about going downhill, the Pyrenees are not for you! The afternoon was a mixture of going up knackering hills, and then cringing with fear of another puncture when we hit the downhills. And did I mention that it was raining?
At least it was nice scenery for such a crappy day.
The new inner tube held, to our relief, though we felt quite disheartened by the lack of miles and the constant inclines we had encountered. We stopped at a campsite just outside of somewhere called Cambo-le-Bains. Eat, shower, bed.
Sunday 26th April
Miles: 40 (a bit better)
Just as we set off from the campsite at 9.30AM it began to rain. And that was it: it didn’t stop. All day.
Throughout the day the hills stopped being craggy and mountainous and began to look more rolling, so the inclines and declines gradually became gentler. I say this in the same way a doctor says “You may experience some discomfort”. It was bloody hard! We found that it helped to talk about inane things while we tackled the hills.
No punctures today, though it took a long time to stop mentally bracing every time we got to a decline.
The rain slackened off in the afternoon, and we actually saw a mountain with snow on it in the distance, which was pretty cool (I wanted to call it a Pyrenee, but I don’t think that’s right).
We stopped at a campsite by Navarrenx at 4. The sun shone for about an hour, and then the rain began again in earnest. Luckily for us, the owners of the campsite offered for us to stay in a little cabin overnight, so that we could keep our tent dry under an awning and get a better night’s sleep. We very gratefully took them up on this, and now have a cabin with a table and chairs and many children’s board games! In the world of tents this is like being upgraded to business class.
Monday 27th April
With the complimentary wifi (this campsite is very nice!) we saw that today was going to be extremely rainy, so neither of us needed much persuading to take a rest day in order to wait out the bad weather.
The weather kept to its word and made us feel very justified in our decision: we woke to lashings of rain against the cabin window (love the cabin! The cabin is great!). We stayed in our sleeping bags for a while, feeling very happy with ourselves that we were in here, not out there.
Eventually we headed into Navarrenx, a very pretty historical town with a wall all around it.
Based on a recommendation from the campsite owner we had an excellent four course lunch for only 13 euros each, including a pitcher of wine. Again, we reflected smugly on how much better it was to be sat in a restaurant, full of food and slightly drunk, than to be cycling out there (rain still lashing biblically at the windows).
I was tipsy enough to need snack food. I was thinking eclairs, or possibly a bag of cake (which they do in France) but Eric persuaded me to go for yoghurt and honey. I’m not sure this is going to catch on. He’s getting very healthy these days. What has happened to Eric “baguette, ham and cheese” Barton?
Tuesday 28th April
The best views yet while cycling today. We set off at 10.30 (can’t seem to get going early no matter how hard we try. Well OK, we could try harder!) and had a great morning cycling along a FLAT valley with views of the increasingly magnificent Pyrenees. This was the magical combination of no hills + great views, and as the weather was bright and sunny we couldn’t ask for more!
Eventually we did hit some enormous hills, and lowest gear grinds/getting off and pushing ensued. A lot.
The late afternoon saw more push-inducing inclines, though a lot of the roads we followed went across the hills rather than up and down them, which saved us some effort!
It was a great day, perfect weather, beautiful views, and the right mix of challenging and easy-going cycling. We finished the day in a campsite in Baudreix, not far from Lourdes.